Echo reverberates across The Cube

“Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” Mohsin Hamid

Here we are, the final Echo reverberates across The Cube in hybrid glitch form.

The photo booth is installed, the virtual mirror throbs in anticipation and the Echo character maps across the space. She navigates us, “Come closer”  she says, you are now part of something bigger”.

The last month has seen many creative and technical developments, including the integration of the narratives. They began as fiction and ended as readymades. Real intimate stories from real people. Through the mirror our storytellers confide in you, the user, revealing moments of their lives where they have suffered or overcome hardship. As their narrative unfolds the features of your face slowly morph into their face. They operate you with their expressions and leave you placed firmly in their shoes. This intimate experience forces us to relate and connect with those outside of our normal social sphere. Narrative has long been a tool for empathy, awareness and social change, Echo intends to push this further still by immersing the viewer visually as well as through the imagination.

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“Storytelling is both the seductive siren and the safe haven that encourages the connection with the feared “other.” How we relate to stories and storytelling can be seen as an acid-test for empathy.” PJ Manney 2008

As I sit in The Cube and watch people interact I’m seeing the experiment unfold in so many different ways, working for a range of ages and tendencies. Within five minutes these animated experiences jump from the intimate booth to the large screens above and a new digital family begins to breed. The aim of the project is to break down prejudices and connect people through shared identity and expression. Check out this taster video

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“Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.” Brecht

As the world becomes more complex and digitally connected the role of empathy becomes more and more important as we become more isolated. In the future Echo will continue to build a culturally diverse archive of stories and identities with the intention of finding a new personalised, emotive tool to connect people and tackle the epidemic of loneliness of our digital age.

Echo will be screening at The Cube until Friday 28 April.

 

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Tuning back in from the reverberating world of ECHO …

A month under my belt and still two to go. The project is growing limbs by the second and each day seems more exciting than the last. Tech wise our facial tracking application is well on the way to having the main functionality working smoothly.  Here’s a taster video of the first stage recorded live from the application with a few treatments added.

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The next stage is user interface design and narrative content. It’s time to bring fiction, drama and sound to the work so you might see me cruising around Kelvin Grove campus collecting and researching personal stories. Don’t be shy, come and say Hello and get involved in my project.

Over the next three weeks I’ll use this research to write some intimate stories with the help of the creative writing and drama students.  These narratives will be integrated into the final user experience where you literally see through someone else’s eyes, kickstarting the empathy engine..

Still so much to do but with the support of The Cube and the Creative Industries team, anything is possible!

Welcome Georgie

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Ello!

I’m a multimedia artist completing a residency at The Cube for the next three months.
I studied Vis Arts at QUT way back in the 90’s and since then I have been travelling across Europe and Australia making audio visual work for both stage and screen. 17 years later I’m back and with my geek on…

Here’s a link to my Showreel if you’re interested: https://vimeo.com/159136216

My creative practice has, for many years, used technology to explore notions of physical and emotional empathy. Here and now I’ll be developing a project called Echo. Over the next few months I’ll be designing elements and software for an interactive installation that is a morphing virtual mirror. The viewer will be able to customise an interchangeable avatar and fragment and mix their own face with the features of other people and animals, creating a range of morphing hybrid personalities. We’re also developing a real time facial tracking application that copies your expressions as you wear anothers face or multiple faces.

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I want to explore how we respond to our face being fragmented and manipulated by others and if it is possible to build community by developing a truly ‘shared’ identity? Does a combined identity extend the parts of us or dilute us? What can we learn about narcism and empathy through this experience? And what can we learn about micro expressions?

Two weeks in and already progress is being made within Unity, the game engine we are using to build the software. I’m also loving getting lost in transmission chaos land of animated glitch fragments! Here’s a video link to some animation tests I’ve been playing with: https://vimeo.com/203231463

In April the installation will run and the animated portraits will be installed into The Cube with an event that showcases the application as a live tool for Public performance.
Will tune in again soon, hope to face mosh with you…

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The Changing Room—final performance

My residency at The Cube concluded last month with the opening of my piece The Changing Room.

How would you like to feel? What if you could make it happen with a touch of a screen? What would you do with complete control over your own emotions and those of the people around you?

The Changing Room is a custom software installation and performance that allows participants to select one of hundreds of emotions, evoking that emotion in them and everyone in the space through a layered environment of light, visuals, sound, text, and interaction exhibited over a multi-level, many-sided display. Dealing with themes of surveillant architectures, social technologies, and smart homes, the piece simultaneously invades and cares for the emotions of passersby.

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Upon entering the main space, you are confronted with the question, “Do you want to feel?”, and you are given the opportunity to select the emotion you’d like to experience.

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The Changing Room then gets to work trying to make everyone in the space feel that emotion as intensely as possible.

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Every zone of The Cube becomes active with different instructions, graphics, and activities that it guides passersby through. In one zone, your voice is interpreted as animated objects moving around the screens. If you touch them to pop them, a command is released instructing you to “hug the person next to you”, or “curl up into a ball”.

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People in the booths are confronted with a monolithic block that slides back and forth roulette style, randomly choosing a booth to light up with an instruction intended for that group.

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On the second floor, your body position is analyzed as you’re guided through a series of positions and contortions. The process of assuming the various positions is designed to  evoke the emotion that’s been selected in the main space.

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In another zone, ambient sound and voices are picked up by a series of microphones distributed throughout the area and analyzed. Depending on the currently selected emotion, you are instructed to adapt yourself to “share your feelings”, “calm down”, or “express more joy”.

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The opening was accompanied by a special performance and dinner during which participants were fully immersed in The Changing Room. Performers took cues from The Cube and worked to amplify the emotions and guide conversation around themes of surveillance and social technology.

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The evening concluded with a series of toasts to the future. While participants felt a mix of hope, fear, and ambiguity, I think we all left with a sense of open curiosity and questioning.

The Changing Room was created in collaboration with Sean Druitt, Ryan Bargiel, Allan Bishop, Samuel Collins, Daniel Fisher, Simon Harrison, Brian Jeffery, and the rest of the QUT Cube Team, and Andy Bates and Yu Kao. Performers included Viv Coburn, Brittany Hurkmans, Jacob Nye, Tiffany Symons, and Jackie Taylor. This project was completed as part of a TRANSMIT³ Residency at The Cube, QUT. The residency is presented by Ars Electronica and QUT.

Thank you QUT for having me and supporting this project! I am back in the states now and missing Australia already.

Photos by Kyle McDonald

Hello and welcome, Lauren McCarthy

Hi! I am an artist from New York, in residence for the next two months at The Cube. My practice involves looking at our social interactions, the rules and expectations that govern them, and the effects of technology. I have always been a pretty socially awkward person, and my projects are often attempts to hack my way to better relationships.

A few years ago, I went on a series of dates with people I met on an online dating site and crowdsourced my dating life by paying workers online to watch a video stream of the dates and tell me what to say and do. (Social Turkers, 2013, http://socialturkers.com)

Thinking about algorithmic enhancement of relationships, together with Kyle McDonald, we made a Google Hangout app that would monitor your speech and facial expression and provide real-time prompts to “enhance” the conversation. (us+, 2014, http://lauren-mccarthy.com/us)

Most recently, I created an Uber-like app and service where you could hire a stranger (I was actually the Follower) to follow you for one day . I’d tail the person based on their GPS data, keeping just out of sight but within their consciousness, leaving them at the end with just one photo from sometime during the day. (Follower, 2016, http://lauren-mccarthy.com/follower)

For this residency, I am focusing on the idea of the Smart Home and Internet of Things, and all of the promises these offer. I am going to turn the Cube into a smart home for QUT students and community, gathering data through its many sensors, and interacting with the people in the space through ambient instructions on the walls. The point is to question and critique the idea of a surveillant space that guides you mindlessly, while also exploring more interesting possibilities.

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Often the idea of a smart space or AI is represented by thermostats that adjust themselves and either the complete lack of any human feeling, or a sci-fi fantasy female character.

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I’m planning to dig deeper into the process of socialisation. Who are the human authority figures that teach us how to behave and relate to others. Maybe it is your mum or dad, an older sibling, teacher, or friend, or role model. How do these people watch over us and influence us. Could this social intelligence be captured and embodied in an artificial intelligence?

These are some of the questions I aim to explore with this project. I’ll be starting research with a series of interviews and workshops open to the public. Stay tuned for more details if you’d like to participate!